The Impact of Apple’s Ground-Breaking Mail Privacy Protection on Email Marketing

“Privacy has been central to all our work at Apple from the beginning. Every year, we push ourselves to develop new technology that’ll allow users to take more control of their data and make better-informed decisions about whom they share it with. Various innovative features have been incorporated into this year’s update, which will give users more granular control and deeper insights than ever before.”
– Craig Federighi, Apple’s Senior Vice-President of Software Engineering

Apple’s ground-breaking mail privacy protection announcement during its 2021 annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC21) has left email marketers in a bit of a pickle. While some fear the demise of email marketing, others dismissed the announcement entirely. However, we believe that marketers need to brace themselves and prepare for impact to deliverability, analytics, and email design.  

And if you’re wondering what this fuss is all about and how it’ll affect the realm of email marketing, you’re at the right place.

We believe that there’s no need to worry.

With Apple’s Privacy Protection initiative, there’ll be a few changes that’ll impact the world of email marketing. But there’s no one platform that these changes apply to. It doesn’t matter which email marketing platform you use; these changes are applicable to all. Hence, if you rely heavily on email marketing, it’s extremely critical to familiarize yourself with Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection. 

We have put together this guide to help you understand:

Let’s touch down on each of these points one by one with more insights.

What’s Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection?

Like we mentioned before, Apple, during its WWDC21 event, announced a few privacy-focused features that will be coming to Apple Mail with iPadOS 15, iOS 15, watchOS 8, and macOS Monterey. 

As stated by Apple, “In the Mail app, Mail Privacy Protection will stop senders from utilizing invisible pixels for collecting information about the users. This new feature will allow users to prevent senders from knowing when they open an email. At the same time, this feature will mask the users’ IP Addresses, such that it can’t be used to determine their location and link to their online activity.”

Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection will be an opt-in option for users. Upon launching their Mail application for the first time, the users will be greeted with:

Following are the three key areas being addressed by Apple with this update:

  • Location Tracking
  • IP Tracking
  • Email Read Receipts

The first two will most probably impact personalization. Whereas the third one will impact different areas like analytics tracking, creating data-driven marketing campaigns, and more.

In simpler terms, Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection allows users to mask their online mail activity. 

Up until now, data from email was loaded when the recipient opened an email and downloaded the images. Now, this data comprised a pixel. This pixel allowed email providers to track information like:

  • Email was opened
  • What device was used
  • Sometimes, where the recipient was located when they opened an email

Now, with the Mail Privacy Protection feature, Apple Mail will automatically preload content of emails and images – this includes the tracking pixel as well – irrespective of whether the recipient opened an email or not.

With this move, Apple has made data fetched from the pixels completely unreliable for email marketers.

As simple as that!

How Does Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection Affect Email Marketing?

Apple Mail is, without a doubt, one of the most popular email clients these days, as it’s the default mail application for Apple devices. As reported by Litmus, Apple devices accounted for about 52% of the overall email opens this year.

Now, it’s unclear how many users will opt-in for Mail Privacy Protection after it’s launched. But, with consumers these days worried about their online privacy and the companies tracking their activity, the number has been predicted to be way high. Hence, email marketers should rely less on open data and look for other ways to turn their email marketing campaigns into success.

Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection will predictably be just as popular as other features they have announced in the past. With marketers not being able to get their hands on open data, it’ll definitely impact follow-up emails. So, email marketers need to devise a strategy that incorporates Apple’s latest feature into it.

When will Mail Privacy Protection be Imposed?

Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection feature will reportedly roll out in the fall of 2021 – most probably alongside iOS 15. While there’s no concrete rollout date for iOS 15, it’s in the beta testing phase. The rumored time period is set around September-November this year.

What’s the Number of Users That May Opt-in For Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection Feature?

Data fetched from a survey indicates that 84% of consumers care about their privacy and want more control over how their data is currently being used. About 80% of respondents claimed that they’re willing to act to protect their data. 

These days, consumers are worried about their privacy. Privacy has always been an important issue, but now it’s starting to dominate the conversation more, as more of our lives happen online. After all, who knows more about you… is it you, or it it Google or Facebook or Amazon?

Internet giants like Google and Apple are finally taking the much-needed measures to build a privacy-first web. And while doing so, they’re allowing users to opt-in – just like Apple is doing with its Mail Protection Privacy Feature. 

Let’s say 70% of your email list use Apple Mail to read their emails. Now, if 90% of them opt-in to additional privacy protection, then we think that there’s far less weight you can put on the email open rate. As the old saying goes, “bad data in, bad data out”, and in this case we know that the open rate data is about to get a whole lot less accurate. The same was the case with the app tracking feature that was rolled out alongside iOS 14.5.

How Does Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection Impact Email Marketing?

Email marketing has been around for decades. These days, email marketers tap into the power of data to build highly converting email marketing campaigns. But, now, with Apple users being able to opt-in to additional privacy soon, the big question arises:

“How Will This Feature Impact Email Marketing?”

Our team has put together a list of five ways in which this feature will impact email marketing. Let’s have a look:

  • No Longer Reliable Open Rates
  • The inability of Email Marketers to Track Individual User Data
  • Change in Personalization
  • Reduced & Unreliable Click-to-Open Rates
  • Less Reliable Open Rate Powered Email Features

Let us guide you through each of these points one at a time.

No Longer Reliable Open Rates

Like we discussed before, Apple will be automatically preloading content of emails and images irrespective of whether a user opened an email or not. This means email open rates will be unreliable. Since Apple will be preloading content of emails and images automatically, email marketers will be witnessing the open rates skyrocket. But remember – those aren’t actually open rates. So, tracking this metric will be completely unreliable moving forward.

The Inability of Email Marketers to Track Individual User Data

Along with open rates, email marketers will be unable to track individual user data like location; time opened, and more. With marketers having access to a lesser information, they’ll have to apply other tactics to ace their email marketing efforts.

Following is the list of information that will be inaccessible by email marketers apart from the open rate:

  • Time when an email was opened
  • Location from where email was accessed
  • Device used to open an email

Change in Personalization

As discussed before, the following are the three key areas being addressed by Apple with this update:

  • Location Tracking
  • IP Tracking
  • Email Read Receipts

The first two will likely affect personalization. However, it’s not the end. Email marketers can still create high-grade personalized email marketing campaigns. The ability to add names in content or subject lines or create personalized content will not be impacted.

However, it’ll affect other personalization tactics like reaching out to the most engaged or least engaged subscribers. The personalization efforts based on the email open rates will be heavily impacted. 

Reduced & Unreliable Click-to-Open Rates

Click-to-Open rate (CTOR) refers to the number of unique clicks divided by the number of unique opens. Up until now, marketers have been using these metrics to determine the effectiveness of the content and email marketing campaign. 

However, Apple’s Mail Protection Privacy feature will bring your open rates way up. So, now, if you divide the number of clicks by an extremely high open rate, obviously, the number will go down. But that doesn’t mean that your CTOR is extremely low. Instead, CTOR is soon about to be an unreliable metric. 

Clicks will still be a reliable metric, and it can be used to measure the success of email marketing campaigns. This metric signifies the number of your email recipients who clicked the link on your email.

Less Reliable Open Rate Powered Email Features

Following are the features that rely on pixel data or email opens and will now be less reliable post-update:

  • Contact Insights & Engagement: With extremely high open rates, you’ll see the contacts with extremely high engagement, which makes this feature unreliable moving forward.
  • Resend to Non-Openers: You won’t know who has opened your email and who hasn’t. And as Apple will automatically preload the content and images, there’ll be no non-openers in your list – this applies for users that have opt-in. So, there’ll be no point in rolling out follow-up emails to non-openers.
  • Email List Segmentation: Email marketers use open data for segmenting email lists. Sometimes they segment based on “most engaged” and “least engaged.” With open rates being obsolete, the segmentation approaches based on open rates will no longer be reliable.
  • A/B Subject Line Testing: Usually, A/B subject line testing involves rolling out two emails with different subject lines to a small chunk of the subscribers in an email list. The one with a more open rate wins. However, with open rates no longer reliable, this feature will seriously be affected. 
  • Automated Email Series: Automated Email campaigns are, most of the time, based on email open rates. So, whenever Email A is opened, email marketers make sure that email B is rolled out automatically. However, with marketers no longer having access to open data, automated email campaigns based on open rate will be affected as well.

That being said, there are a few areas of email marketing that’ll not be impacted at all. Let’s focus on these areas next. 

How Does Mail Privacy Protection Not Impact Email Marketing?

While some marketers claim email marketing to be dead, the thing is, they don’t apply the right set of tactics and strategies. When done right, the ROI can be as high as $44 for every $1 you spend on email marketing. That’s a gigantic 4400% ROI. Email marketing is NOT dead, far from it. Email marketing remains one of the most popular engagement channels and that will remain the case long after this Apple update.

Despite being unable to track user activity, you can use email marketing to drive results by being a bit more strategic and crafty. Your goal shouldn’t be to have a high open-rate. Instead, it should be to engage your target audience to position yourself as an industry expert or find ways to add value as an incentive for engaging with your emails.

And to achieve the best possible results, we’ve put together a list of four steps you can take post-Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection rollout.

Let’s have a look.

The 4 Steps You Can Take to Achieve the Best Possible Email Marketing Results Post Mail Privacy Protection Feature Rollout

You can’t stick to the old-school “tracking-the-user-activity” tactics anymore. If you still want to stay at the top of the game, you need to devise a strategy that incorporates Apple’s Privacy Protection Feature in it. 

Before we look at the four steps that we are about to reveal in front of you, the first thing you got to do is assume that every single one of your subscribers in your mail list will opt-in to Apple’s Privacy Protection Feature.

Build that mindset and prepare yourself accordingly. And then, when you’re ready, implement these four steps to achieve the best possible results in the Mail Privacy Protection era:

  • Alter the Way You Measure Success 
  • Familiarize Yourself with the Best Practices for Higher Open Rates
  • Ditch Open-Based Triggers! Use Clicks & Time-Based Triggers for Automation
  • Brace Yourself for the Next Set of Changes to be Rolled Out in the Near Future

Alter the Way You Measure Success

Gone are the days when you used to measure the success of your email marketing campaigns based on open rates. Now, you need to go beyond opens and clicks. Yes, email clicks are still reliable, but we don’t think that it should be your go-to metric for tracking the success of your email marketing campaign. Instead, we’d advise you to focus on the following metrics:

  • Conversion Rate: The percentage of your subscribers taking the desired action like scheduling a call with you or making a purchase.
  • Overall ROI: Revenue you generated for every dollar you invested in email marketing.
  • List Growth Rate: How fast you are adding new subscribers to your mail list.
  • Email Sharing / Forwarding: The number of your subscribers forwarding or sharing your emails. 
  • Click Rate: Last but not least, the percentage of your subscribers who clicked through your email.

Familiarize Yourself with the Best Practices for Higher Open Rates

Post Mail Privacy Protection feature rollout, you’ll not be able to get your hands on accurate open rates. But, it’s still important that people open your emails. Otherwise, it’ll be a big waste of your precious marketing dollars. 

So, until the feature is rolled out, familiarize yourself with the top tips and tricks – these strategies should make your audience open your emails. Test different tactics and strategies. Understand what’s working and what’s not. Document everything, and when the feature finally rolls out, don’t hesitate to apply these strategies. 

Ditch Open-Based Triggers! Use Clicks & Email-Based Triggers for Automation

Post Mail Privacy Protection feature rollout, you can’t roll out automated emails or create email drip campaigns based on open-based triggers. Some great replacements are:

  • When a user clicks on a link or a piece of content
  • Date-Based Triggers: Anniversary or Birthday Emails
  • Time-Based Triggers: Roll Out an Email after X Days of Rolling out the Previous One
  • Ecommerce Behavior Triggers: Abandoned Cart Emails – these will be based on first-party data

Brace Yourself for the Next Set of Changes to be Rolled Out in the Near Future

The world of marketing is ever-changing. And these days, consumers are worried about their online privacy. While companies like Apple and Google have just started rolling out these privacy protection features, don’t think of them to be the end. There’ll likely be many more that’ll be focused on protecting consumer data. 

It’s not the end. Instead, we haven’t even yet begun. So, it’s important for email marketers to prepare themselves for any upcoming changes and to familiarize themselves with the future trends well ahead of time.

Are You Ready for Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection Rollout?

Apple’s WWDC21 Mail Privacy Protection was groundbreaking. And it has shaken the marketing community like nothing ever has before. 

And if you rely heavily on open rates and individual user data to track the success of your email marketing campaigns, it’s crucial to make the required changes and devise an email marketing strategy that’ll help you survive in the post Mail Privacy Protection era.

Our experts at Elite Digital would love nothing more than helping you out. Feel free to reach out to us today.

About Robert Burko

Robert Burko is CEO and Founder of Elite Digital, a leading digital marketing agency. As one of Canada's chief digital marketing specialists, Burko has appeared on national television, radio, podcasts, and in countless print publications and blogs across North America. Burko is also a professor of Digital Marketing & Social Media at Seneca College in Toronto. Recognized as a thought leader in his industry, Robert is often invited to speak as an expert in his field at high-profile events across North America.

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